Bonus Content: Bullet Journal Process/Template

(organizational strategies for and more importantly BY the extremely disorganized)

Hi! In this week's short-answer post, a commenter asked about my process for checking in with feelings around tasks & obligations (which came up in both Q4 and Q10) and here it sort of is in the form of self-designed bullet journal modules. If you can't see or read the images, don't worry, I'll spell out what's going on in the text. 

For background, last Christmas I joked/semi-sincerely tweeted about the New Year's Resolution problem of having ADHD and adopting shiny new organizational tools that are immediately abandoned. The thread blew up, brought amazing people & community into my life, and to hell with it: I actually started bullet-journaling. It's July, I'm still bullet-journaling, which is the longest I have ever stayed with a planning system so I'm calling it a success. 

If you want to generally know about bullet journaling, here's the site made by the method's creator, and here's friend-of-blog Rachel's guide and book. There are a ton of pretty templates you can buy and create, style guides, tips, tricks, etc. out there. I purposely made myself look at none of them and just tried to stay with the most elementary stuff. 

Here's what I found out through trial and error: 

  • iCal & My Phone are great for setting alarms and reminders, but I work best with a paper planner, and being able to combine a journal and a planner is a godsend. This way I only have to remember one notebook, and I can use it to plan and then fill in the plans on my phone so it goes "ding" when there's "stuff." 
  • Existing templates are lovely (a lot of people I know swear by Passion Planner), but I don't use all the fields all the time, and the empty ones over time create a feeling of failure & dread, like I should be filling those expensive pages out but I'm not, aaaaaaaaaah, I'm failing again, aaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh. I got a free trial for BestSelf Journal and probably it works for some people but for me it was literally the worst. Just, half-filled-out expensive shame-rectangles piling up like bricks of anxiety. No. 
  • I am not a minimalist. At all. Sometimes I want to write more than I have the space for, what do I do then, ruin a new template page? (aaaaaaaaaaah I'm failing again  aaaaaahhhhhhhhh) I am not in this for efficiency. That was important to realize, because a lot of the BuJo stuff is about a beautiful minimalism. But I don't want that, I want its flexibility. It still works for me. 
  • Again, one of my enemies is perfectionism, so trying to make a perfect beautiful system is both an irresistible temptation and a dangerous distraction. I skip things a lot, stop and restart a lot, I use pretty multi-color pens (a different color or duo of colors every day) because it makes it fun and also it helps me to have a visual reference for when the days switch, but I do not have a color-coded system. If color coding is where your bliss lies, go where I cannot follow! If you see different colors here, they have no particular meaning other than, yesterday was blue/orange and today is purple/pink. Tomorrow will be two new colors, who knows? I like office supplies.
  • Someone *will* ask so I will tell you: I am addicted to these notebooks. My current one is magenta and it's almost time to pick out a new color and I am vibrating with anticipation. Nominations? Last few months before this I used the bright yellow, which is a Very Good yellow. You can use any notebook you like, it doesn't have to be fancy. 

The photos in this post are of a sample "Daily Log" page, if you're familiar with Bullet Journal designations. I have a calendar-at-a-glance for the month and then I have this, where I break down each day and record what has to happen. Again, let me refer you to the site that will explain all this if this is new, I do only the most basic bullets/design. 

Here's my process: 

First, in the morning, I start with a blank page, write:

Today's Date (i.e. July 1, 2019)

And then I list everything from memory that I think I have going on today using the dot, circle, and dash designations that mean task, event, and note. I don't worry about subcategories, any particular order or system, just, what does my brain think today looks like, let's jumble it all in there. 


Now I check both my calendar and my last few days of to-do list stuff. What am I forgetting? Usually there's something. I add that back in, then I update my phone calendar reminders so there is device-paper congruence. I don't have to do anything else, this is enough to go with, some days this is all I do. Done! I will check off things and scribble more notes as I go, probably, it will probably only make sense to me, that's fine. There's no way to fuck this up. 

If I have time, or lots of things that need more attention/detail, I keep going on that same page, breaking out subcategories for WORK and HOME + SOCIAL. 

Under WORK, I list specifically work things in more detail. Same with HOME/SOCIAL- household chores, meal planning, bills, reminders to check in with Mr. Awkward, RSVP to stuff, reminders to check in on certain friends or family about big life stuff. 

Important: I don't have to add any of these fields (not every day is a work day!)  it's just there if I want to or need to.

Now let's look at Page 2, which also I do not have to use, but can.  There are categories for FEELINGS, BODY, and ART STUFF

FEELINGS: What's my overall mood? Anything I'm really excited about today? Anything I'm anxious about? [What am I avoiding/dreading/afraid of leads me to "shoulds" leads me to "what tasks keep showing up here undone" leads me to "Do I even really need/want to do this thing in the first place?" (if no, cross it out and stop moving it forward, if yes, knock it out already or figure out what the barrier is). Do I have to feel a certain way in order to do what I need to do? 

The important thing is that there's no judgment, just recording what is. 

BODY: I HAVE ONE, UNFORTUNATELY. And I tend to ignore it as long as I can and then it stops working so I have to pay attention to it. I'm trying to break this pattern, so I prompt myself now and again for reminders about medical appointments, taking stock of how I'm feeling physically, recording menstrual cycles and other stuff I'm supposed to monitor, reminders about physical plant maintenance (I super-need a haircut right now, for example) go here. 

ART STUFF: Would it surprise you to know that I have 10,000 ideas for things to write about and make and do that do not fit into the existing vessel of CaptainAwkwardDotCom? Or that I read 100+ books a year? I'm trying to, not in an obligatory way, just in a general "let's check on this periodically" way to be better about recording things I'm reading and thinking about and watching, interesting conversations and stories and sightings that would make good material, dreams, etc. 

If I add this module in on a particular day,  I put it last, because if I'm in the grip of something, I may scrawl on for many more pages. I can just make a note of that in my Table of Contents and re-start the Daily Log any old time. Which is why this combined planner/journal format are working for me (and pre-existing templates do not), since I can expand it to fit what I need on any given day and collapse it back so I'm not creating a bunch of new obligations for myself on top of a pretty epic pile of "should" and "avoidance" and shame. 

My personal struggle with ADHD (and it's good buds anxiety and depression) boil down so much to:

  • What do I need to do?
  • What do I want to do?
  • What did I say I would do? What did I promise others? Myself? 
  • Can these things please match sometimes?
  • When in doubt, what is this organization and time management stuff all for? (I can fight Nazis and be a good writer without organizing my sock drawer first, but scooping the cat box = happy cats so I better just do it.)

So far this is one of the things that's helping me. If it helps you too, I'm glad, and you could always add in whatever you like to your existing process without imitating me or reinventing a thing that's mostly working for you! My biggest piece of advice is: There's no way to be wrong at this, there's only what makes you feel more on top of your day and your life, so if your system is creating dread and obligations because you think you're not doing it "correctly," do something else! 

I do not currently want any more tips about how *I* should make my process work better, but if you want to share stuff that makes *your* process work for readers, the comments are open to any patrons. Thanks for reading! 

P.S. I also made a color-coded daily writing list that lets me choose a bunch of possible tasks for a given day, but that's clearly another post for another time. ;-)

P.P.S. Reader Kate N. has offered a digital bullet journal explainer for the non-stationery addicts among us. 

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